Universal Pictures International (UPI) is sounding out selected territorial buyers at the American Film Market (AFM) on a clutch of high-profile studio titles headed by the $90m The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle and Ridley Scott's Hannibal, the sequel to Silence Of The Lambs.

The move is seen as a bid by Universal to find a middle way between shouldering films' entire budgets and offloading all international rights through independent sales houses.

According to buyers, the US major is conducting talks in certain key markets on several studio pictures through its newly-reconfigured overseas sales operation under Ron Fogelman. The sales team, which reports to Universal's London-based head of acquisitions Graeme Mason, was one of the operations to survive Universal's decision to cease theatrical distribution activities at UPI.

While some buyers argue that the Rocky And Bullwinkle cartoon characters are little known to overseas audiences, the picture offers independent distributors a major US summer release and that stars both Robert DeNiro and Rene Russo. Universal has previously approached leading international sales agents, including Franchise Pictures, about selling international rights on the film.

UPI is also thought to be working with producer Dino De Laurentiis on sellling Hannibal, now expected to star Julianne Moore alongside Anthony Hopkins, in certain key markets. While the picture, which MGM will release in North America, is expected to weigh in with a hefty above-the-line cost, it is also seen as particularly anticipated in international markets and likely to secure Universal a high return up-front.

Most US studios are currently facing the conundrum of how to fill their US slates when their own production budgets have not risen in line with the ballooning cost of making Hollywood features.

While Universal recently shared costs and risk by offloading international rights on pictures such as U-571, which was sold by Summit Entertainment, it also saw the flipside of offloading rights with American Pie, which Summit handled for non-English speaking markets. That picture has amassed more than $28m at the German box-office through distributor Constantin Film.